I admit, prior to reading The Troupe, I had no idea what vaudeville was all about. I had an idea in my head, based on implied fuzzy cultural memory, but it’s not something I’d ever taken a moment to actually look into. Having read Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and paged through Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine, two circus-themed novels from 2011, I classified Bennett’s novel in my mind as another entrant in this newly popularized subgenre. Vaudville isn’t the same as a circus, but I was expecting a similar type of novel where the setting is as much a character as the people that populate it. The Troupe shattered those notions. Plot and character driven, set against a vaudville background, Bennett’s novel calls to mind the stylings of Neil Gaiman and lives up to the comparison.
Sixteen-year-old pianist George Carole has joined vaudeville to find Heironomo Silenus, the man he suspects to be his father. As he chases down Silenus’s troupe, he begins to understand that their performances are unique even for vaudeville and strange happenings follow in their wake. It’s not until after he joins them that George realizes the troupe isn’t simply touring, and Silenus is hiding a secret as old as time itself. Told in a tight third person voice, The Troupe follows George through his experience as a vaudeville act, a lost young man searching for direction, and a chess piece in an endless metaphysical war. Not surprisingly, the novel is divided into three parts that roughly correspond to each of those story arcs, although none are entirely resolved until the final pages. Read More »